Thanks!

The Congregation caught me by surprise. I was not expecting it. I did not know you knew. And on sudden notice Leslie needed to fly out of town the day before to Dallas, Texas, so she wasn’t here for it. I speak of the reception after the Divine Service, on Sunday, June 10, for celebrating the 35th Anniversary of my ordination.

Word had gotten around that Pastor liked pie better than cake. How did anyone find this out? And so there were seven different pies made for the occasion! Yum.

And some very kind words were spoken. Of course the accolades were exaggerations, but the affection and gratitude intended in their expression warmed my heart and were encouraging.

How gratifying to hear tributes echoing leading themes I intend in my preaching, teaching, and pastoral care. Themes such as being Christ’s centered, as recognizing the authority of Scripture, as in knowing that faith comes from the hearing of God’s Word, and as in understanding that our life in Christ is one of ongoing repentance and the need to hear the word of forgiveness, were being bounced back.

And there was another aspect to the Divine Service on June 10 that I will not soon forget that made the day special. Due to Leslie’s unexpected absence, and Tom Rislow’s planned trip away, we were without piano accompaniment! I suggested during the announcements at the beginning of the service that we attempt the liturgy and hymns a cappella. I suggested we try it, and if it didn’t work we would try something else.

Fortunately for us, Mike Meunier was the Assisting Minister, and he was prepared to give us the pitch and lead us all the way. What followed was simply beautiful. We have such a good singing congregation! Although we are all glad to welcome the accompanists back, we were not hamstrung by their absence. It was just one more thing to make the day memorable. Thanks!

Since You Asked…

Why do we stand during the reading of the Gospel Lesson?

By standing we are giving expression of special respect and adoration. In the Gospel Accounts we meet our Lord Jesus Christ in a special way. In these writings we are presented with Jesus’ Judean and Galilean ministry. We also have a record of the very words of our Lord (his teachings, parables, dialog, etc.). We hear the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the work of our salvation.

Although the entire Bible is the Word of God, it is in the Gospels that our Lord is most directly presented to us. So you might say that Christ himself is being presented before us in the Gospel Lesson. It is therefore most appropriate that we stand at attention.

Praying to the Lord of the Harvest

 Photo by  Olivia Snow  on  Unsplash

Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash

When you hear the word outreach what comes to mind?

There is renewed interest in focusing on our congregational outreach. We know that it is what we are to be about! And necessarily last year we were focused on some organizational matters. We were overdue in adopting a Constitution and in issuing an official call to a Pastor. Thankfully, those important tasks are behind us.

Constitutionally, and by broad agreement at our Annual Meeting, we have formed an Outreach Team. Much fruit is already accruing from this team, but at our June meeting we arrived at a consensus that we must be careful not to get the cart out ahead of the horse!

What I mean by that is, as we believe, teach and confess that it is God’s Word that gifts us with faith, and animates our lives; and as we believe prayer is the humble means whereby we receive what God gives through his Word, we believe effective outreach needs to be blanketed from start to finish with prayer! Of course we will use our noodles (brains) and pool ideas and do planning, but apart from prayer we risk missing where God is at work.

After his death and resurrection, Our Lord Jesus entrusted his ongoing mission to his chosen disciples. The Apostolic proclamation that in Christ’s death and resurrection there is forgiveness to those who repent was to be broadcast to every nation. Disciples would be formed through Baptism and instruction.

But first, the disciples were to wait upon the Lord and his promise to pour out upon them his Spirit. And so the disciples were gathered for prayer! It was after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Jewish Festival of Pentecost that incredible outreach began to take place. It is exciting to read about it in the Book of Acts! God orchestrated events that exceeded anything that the disciples could have planned, and opportunities for proclaiming Christ abounded.

And so, the Outreach Team is summoning us to prayer! On Sunday mornings at 8:15. Will you join us?

Since You Asked…

Do Lutherans Promote Private Confession?

“Confession has not been abolished by the preachers on our side. … The people are carefully instructed concerning the consolation of the Word of absolution (forgiveness) so that they may esteem it as a great and precious thing. It is not the voice of the man who speaks it, but it is the Word of God, who forgives sin, for it is spoken in God’s stead and by God’s command. …it is necessary for terrified consciences” (Augsburg Confession, XXV)

Confession has two parts: First that we confess our sins, and second, that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the Pastor as from God himself.

Tradition - Passing on the Faith

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When you hear the word traditional what is your immediate reaction? Is its meaning positive, negative, or neutral?

I ask the question because one of the four attributes that both the LCMC and the NALC use to describe themselves is that they are Traditionally-Grounded. And there are many of us, your Pastor included, happy to be connected with that identification.

Jaroslav Pelikan, a noted Church historian, distinguished between tradition and traditionalism, with a memorable definition. He said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead, while traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

As Christians we believe, teach and confess, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “the communion of saints.” We also believe, teach and confess, in the words of the Nicene Creed, “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” That is to say, as believers we are part of a long line of believers down through the ages. Those belonging to preceding generations, though buried and awaiting the resurrection of the body, are still very much alive and in Christ’s presence. And all of us are grounded upon the apostolic proclamation and teaching. It is the foundation of our very own faith.

The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “So then you are … members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (2:19-20). And Jude writes in his New Testament letter, “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (1:3).

The desire to be traditional in Christianity does not mean that we wish to be living in an earlier time. Instead, it means that we very much hope to be sharing in the identical “saving faith” that Peter and Paul believed and proclaimed. It means that although we are living twenty centuries later, we know ourselves to be a part of the same community, indeed the family of God. For we are not looking for novelty, but for belonging and for permanence.

Since You Asked…

What is the meaning of the “KYRIE” (kir-E-A)?

KYRIE is a Latin term which is in turn is a transliteration of a Greek word meaning “Lord.” In the Latin Mass the term KYRIE was combined with the term ELESION meaning “have mercy.” In addition, the Mass included a three-fold response: KYRIE ELEISON, CHRISTE ELEISON, KYRIE ELEISON, which translated is “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.” In our Lutheran Worship Service we utilize a prayer from the Latin Mass known as a Peace Litany. A Litany is a responsive prayer. This Litany is usually led by our Assisting Minister, and the congregation response is the KYRIE ELEISON. And so the Assisting Minister begins, “In peace let us pray to the Lord,” and the congregation responds to this and each succeeding petition with, “Lord, have mercy.” (with help from the Manual on the Liturgy a companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship, publ. by Augsburg).

Reaching Beyond Our Walls

Our newly formed Outreach Team, under the direction of our Vice President, Jarrod Roll, is off to a good start. Let me hasten to initially say, this is not the group responsible for doing outreach. That privilege belongs to all of us! Rather, this team is providing leadership, strategizing, and planning for how we reach out to the community beyond our walls at Gift of Grace.

An interesting challenge we are working with in the early going is the question, how do we talk about ourselves to others? Those on the team have no trouble speaking enthusiastically about what excites us about our congregational family. The challenge appears to be using words that might make sense to outsiders, especially those with different faith heritages, or those with little or no church background.

For instance, many of us like the aspect that we are traditional, both as a congregation and in our affiliation with the North American Lutheran Church. To many of us, that means that we are grounded and established on a firm foundation. But to many we are trying to reach out to, the term “traditional” may seem to suggest that we enjoy being antiquated and unconnected with our present age.

We have lots of buzz words, or jargon, that makes sense to us, but may not convey the meaning that we wish to convey to others. Examples might include being “Christ Centered”, that we emphasize “grace”, that we are “Cross Focused”, that we enjoy the “objective realities” of our salvation, that we are a church of “Word and Sacrament”, and so on.

Give me an hour to tell someone about our congregation and the riches of the Lutheran tradition, and I would hope I could do a fair job. But to share with those who might be a little curious or interested, but are not ready for a full discourse, I find it more challenging. Perhaps you do as well. Prayerfully, we are working on it. I will keep you posted. We would be glad to have you weigh in.

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the “Silence for reflection and self-examination” in the Brief Order For Confession and Forgiveness?

“The silence for self-examination and reflection should be an extended silence to enable personal application of the general phrases of the prayer that follows. Silence of one or two minutes is not too long” (Manual on the Liturgy – LBW). This is a helpful time to reflect back on our lives over the past week and ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed. By allowing for this period of reflection we are able to personalize what would otherwise remain quite general.

Reformation and Renewal

With this week’s Grace Notes we will complete our tour of Luther’s Small Catechism. I trust you will conclude, as have countless others, that The Small Catechism one of the richest treasures that we have on offer from our Lutheran Tradition. A person would be hard pressed to have a better summary of the important teachings of the Christian Faith!

The great reformers throughout the ages, including Doctor Martin Luther, would agree that reformation is an ongoing need. Certainly we sense the Church in our present culture is in need of reform, renewal, and more urgent outreach.

Many responding to that need today are relying on human ingenuity. With a consumerist mindset efforts are made to market the faith. The attempt is made to attract and hold the interest of others. Often this involves tremendous effort. It sometimes pays in terms of full parking lots and overflowing offering plates. Yet at the end of the day, can it unquestionably be affirmed that this was God’s work?

I would hope that the time we have spent reviewing the Small Catechism has served to remind us that Christ is the master builder of his Church. And that his chief means of grace, that is, the way he delivers to us the benefits of his crucifixion and resurrection, is by Word and Sacrament.

Classically, reform and renewal have come about as more serious attention has been paid to catechesis (teaching), to ongoing repentance (confession and absolution), and to yielding to the Holy Spirit as he gathers believers around the proclamation of the Gospel and the reception of the  Sacraments – Baptism at our initiation, and Holy Communion for ongoing sustenance.

As Luther reminds us, “In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it united with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church day after day he fully forgives my sins and the sins of all believers.” This we believe and are compelled to share with others.

Since You Asked…

What do Lutherans believe is given in Holy Communion?

“We believe, teach, and confess that in the Holy Supper the body and blood of Christ are truly and essentially present and are truly distributed and received with the bread and wine. We believe, teach, and confess that the words of the testament of Christ are to be understood in no other way than in their literal sense, and not as though the bread symbolized the absent body and the wine the absent blood of Christ, but that because of the sacramental union they are truly the body and blood of Christ” (Formula of Concord, Epitome, Art. VII.)

The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 that the bread is “a participation in the Lord’s body.” If the Lord’s body were not truly present, the bread would perhaps be a participation in his spirit. But Paul says it is a participation in his body!

Coming Clean

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Last week I wrote about the sins one might want to confess in Private Confession. Mention was made of those sins that especially trouble us. Those sins in particular weigh us down. The weight is lifted when as penitent sinners we believe Christ’s promise to forgive. And audibly hearing that promise, repeatedly made, can help instill confidence in our Lord’s promises.

When you make confession to God in the presence of a Pastor, this is a time, not for making excuses, but for coming clean and clearly acknowledging that we have sinned. Details are not as important as honesty. For example, confessing that I have been unfaithful, untruthful, or unforgiving is to the point. Divulging a lot of information is not the point!

As your Pastor I like to use our Lutheran Book of Worship to frame the time for Private Confession. You can take a look at the rite on pages 196-7. It is called “Individual Confession And Forgiveness.”

In this rite I ask the one making confession (the penitent), “Are you prepared to make your confession.” The Pastor and the penitent are then able to recite parts of Psalm 51 and 103 together. Then the penitent begins his confession, “I confess before God that I am guilty of many sins. Especially I confess before you that …” And he ends, “For this I am sorry and I pray for forgiveness. I want to do better.”

The Pastor may engage in conversation and offer comfort from the Scripture, but the important part is when he says, “Do you believe that the word of forgiveness I speak to you comes from God himself?” “Yes, I believe,” is the hoped for reply. Then laying hands on the penitent the Pastor says, “God is merciful and blesses you. By the command of our Lord Jesus Christ, I, a called and ordained servant of the Word, forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of the Day of Pentecost?

A principal Festival, The Day of Pentecost (Jewish harvest festival) was the occasion when the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was sent and poured out on the expectant church. It accordingly marks the culmination of the Easter Season. It occurs 50 days after Easter Sunday. Jesus had promised his followers that when he departed from them (the ascension, not the crucifixion) that he would not leave them as orphans. In fact, until his return at the end of the age, it would be to their advantage that he was departing, for then he would send the Holy Spirit as one called alongside them to comfort them, teach them, guide them, and empower them, even as the Holy Spirit continued to sanctify them (to make holy).

Absolution - The Audible Words of Forgiveness

Picking up with our conversation from last week, I want to discuss with you the kind of sins one might want to confess in Private Confession.

As the Small Catechism states it: “Before God we should confess that we are guilty of all sins, even those which are not known to us, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer. But in private confession, as before the pastor, we should confess only those sins which trouble us in heart and mind.”

Already with this answer we catch a glimpse of the purpose of Private Confession. It is an instrument to bring comfort to a troubled conscience! One of the works of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of our sin (cf. John 16:8). And as our Lord Jesus did not come to condemn us (cf. John 3:17), the work of the Holy Spirit is to trouble us, so that brought to repentance, we might receive the salvation Christ intends for us. But alas, a troubled conscience, without the assurance of forgiveness, can leave a person with excessive sorrow and a sense of despair and condemnation.

The Pastor, as an ambassador, can speak audibly the words of forgiveness. This is called absolution. And the Pastor can continue to share promises from God’s Word that indeed Christ forgives the sins of repentant sinners.

It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit to work through God’s Word. When we listen attentively, our Lord will bring an awareness and conviction of our sin. This is why the Small Catechism suggests: “We can examine our everyday life according to the Ten Commandments – for example, how we act toward father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife, or toward the people with whom we work, and so on. We may ask ourselves whether we have been disobedient or unfaithful, bad-tempered or dishonest, or whether we have hurt anyone by word or deed.”

When we listen attentively we will also hear his promise to forgive and free us!

Since You Asked…

What is the significance of The Ascension Day Commemoration?

Forty days following Easter the Resurrected Christ ascended to heaven, where as we confess in the Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. The account of the ascension of our Lord occurs in both Luke 24:50-51 and Acts 1:9-11. As described in these passages Jesus led his disciples up Mount Olivet near Jerusalem where suddenly they witnessed his being elevated up into the sky until a cloud took him away from their sight. This signified his return to heaven where, as we confess in the Creed, he is seated at the right hand of the Father. This enthronement is a description of the all-inclusive authority he is given by the Father. Christ’s going away necessarily preceded his promised sending of the Holy Spirit. Other hints at the significance of his ascension have to do with his promise to go and prepare a place for his followers to be with him, and to serve as a High Priest interceding for his Church.

Private Confession - What is it?

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Last week I began to talk about Private Confession. I made a defense for it. But one thing I did not do was to explain what it is. In plain words Martin Luther writes, “Private confession has two parts. First, we make a personal confession of sins to the pastor, and then we receive absolution, which means forgiveness as from God himself. This absolution we should not doubt, but firmly believe that thereby our sins are forgiven before God in heaven.”

So you might be asking, does our Pastor hear Private Confessions? When and how do I go about taking advantage of it? And do Lutherans use Confessional booths?

These are all good questions. Let me answer them one at a time. Yes, most emphatically, I am committed to hearing Confessions! I have in the past, and will continue to hear them in the future. And I take advantage of Private Confession myself, at least four times a year.

The way you go about it is to meet with me. If possible I prefer to hear confessions at the church. It never hurts to call ahead to see if I am at church, and if not when I can meet you there. When you call to make an appointment you can just say you would like to meet with me, whether or not you tell me ahead of time it is for Confession.

And lastly, as you have noticed we do not have booths. I like to sit before the altar, or if more privacy is needed, before a cross in a room. Your privacy is important. I am bound by confidentiality. It is nobody’s business, not only what you confess, but even that you made confession at all!

In the coming weeks I will write further concerning the kind of sins that should be confessed, along with the way that confession can be made and how we can be assured of forgiveness. So please stay tuned.

Since You Asked…

What is meant by the term “liturgy”? (from the Greek, “work of the people”): more than a set form of service or one particular service, the liturgy is the whole body of texts and music used for the worship of God. The Lutheran Book of Worship is the liturgy of many Lutheran churches in North America.  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Our Lutheran liturgy involves the participation of all who are gathered: clergy, laity, and worship leaders along with the rest of the congregation. Worship is not a spectator sport. It is an act of reverence, and of offering praise and thanksgiving to our Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Liturgical worship helps us to share in this act.

Private Confession

 Photo by  Dayne Topkin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash

For some strange reason many Lutherans have never heard that Private Confession is encouraged in our Lutheran Tradition! Why is this? Well there are likely many reasons. Certainly we Pastors have not always done a good job of teaching important resources available to believers. And Pastors themselves may have never availed themselves of the benefits of Private Confession. Then there is the feeling that Private Confession is “too Catholic!” And finally, there is the matter in current culture of minimizing sin. And there are probably many other reasons.

But please know, Private Confession is believed, taught, and confessed in our Lutheran Confessions, and notably so in Luther’s Small Catechism. On occasion it is even called a Sacrament, even though it is more often considered an extension of the implications of Holy Baptism.

It is not a case that we cannot go directly to our Heavenly Father in prayer and confess our sins to him and ask for his promised forgiveness. In every circumstance, we are privileged to go directly to the Father in Jesus’ name, for Christ our Lord is the one mediator between God and man (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).

But as we discussed last week, our Father chooses to speak through the voice of his ambassadors. We can actually hear the words of forgiveness spoken by our Lord through his Church and especially through the Church’s appointed leaders carrying on in the Apostolic tradition and witness. We can hear the words, “Your sins are forgiven.”

It can be a great relief to a troubled conscious to hear this voice individually! It also can provide a heightened sense of contrition and deepened sense of humility when we allow a trusted believer, bound by confidentiality, to listen in to our confession to God. That same believer not only can speak the absolution (word of forgiveness) authorized by God, but he can share further Scriptural promises to build confidence in God’s mercy. So what a treasure this is! And I will continue to speak more of this in the weeks to follow.

Since You Asked…

Why do we celebrate Holy Communion nearly every Sunday?

The celebration of the meal we call Holy Communion has consistently been the chief act of Christian worship since the age of the Apostles. The Lutheran Reformation did not break with this tradition of 1,500 years. In fact the Augsburg Confession (our principal statement of faith) declares Holy Communion to be the chief act of worship for Lutherans on Sundays and festivals (Art. 26).  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

You might think of Holy Communion as spiritual bread and drink for our journey (pilgrimage), for our Lord’s Body and Blood is true nutrition indeed!

The Office of the Keys

 Photo by  CMDR Shane  on  Unsplash

Photo by CMDR Shane on Unsplash

Would you believe it? We are on the final leg of our journey through Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. And the final stretch is a consideration of “The Office of the Keys” which includes a consideration of Confession and Forgiveness.

“The Office of the Keys” you say, and what exactly is this? Well I’m glad you asked. And I will let the Good Doctor Luther answer that for you. “It is that authority which Christ gave to his church to forgive the sins of those who repent and to declare to those who do not repent that their sins are not forgiven.”

As usual Luther excels at memorable, pithy, summary statements. But you may be asking, where does he find Scriptural support for the idea that the church is authorized to forgive sins, or in certain other cases to withhold forgiveness? There are two passages especially that teach this.

The first is from John’s Gospel the 20th chapter, verse 23 where our Lord Jesus Christ said to his disciples: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” And the second is from Matthew’s Gospel the 18th chapter, verse 18 where our Lord said to Peter and the disciples: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Now to be sure, Jesus spoke these words to his appointed Apostles. They are in fact the ones who recorded Jesus’ words, his life, indeed his death and resurrection. They represent, as the foundation (see Eph. 2:20 ), the Church, indeed Christ’s Body, that carries on the mission of Jesus!

Note that it is while we speak the Apostolic Word faithfully that the entrusted work of the Apostles, indeed that of Christ himself, continues to be carried on. Just so the Church forgives and retains sins…

Since You Asked…

What is an Alb? And why does our Pastor wear one?

Alb (from the Latin “white”): a white ankle-length vestment with sleeves, often gathered at the waist with a cincture, worn by all ranks of ministers, ordained and unordained. The classical tunic became a specific church vestment about the fifth century. One of the functions of an ordained minister in our tradition is for that person to represent Christ to the people. Christ is pictured in the Book of Revelation with a white robe. The white robe is also a symbol of his righteousness. For this reason, the alb is a proper covering for the presiding minister with the function of representing Christ to the people.  (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)